Reflections: Teachers are just like Students

I’m continuing to process what I learned from the week at the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute. I am coming at this reflection from a teacher-leader perspective, knowing that we have three follow-up sessions with the 100-plus teachers over the next year, and our friends Don Leu, Hiller Spires and others have moved on from Massachusetts to likely work with others. And, if the state funds it, we may do a second week with all new teachers next summer. In other words, this movement here in Massachusetts that we started this week is now in our hands.

And so, some thoughts that I notice could also pertain to students:

  • Participants were paired up in Dyads, working as a team (or Tryads, if necessary) in order to explore a shared interest or lesson plan or curriculum subject. I liked that intermixing. It forced a networking mentality on folks, even those reluctant to mix it up. Clearly, some teams integrated each other better than others. And some made clear they were there at the week to work with colleagues from their districts and they were determined to do so. Just like students …
  • Part of the week was spent showing teachers Cool Tools (such as Glogster, Voicethread, Zotero, Wikispaces, Word Sift and more). That’s good. Hands-on work is crucial. Here is what I noticed, though. Almost all of the projects used only those tools they were shown in the sessions. I did not notice too many folks branching off to now discover more tools on their own.  Instead, they seemed to become locked in to whatever tools they were shown. Glogster, wikis and voicethreads were all over the place. The danger of using mentor tools or text or projects is that they become replicated around the room. Just like students …
  • Lots of freedom on what their projects might encompass (even with the tools noted above) meant an incredible range of ideas. The lesson here for teacher-leaders is that a framework of learning is necessary for connecting, but then, for the most part, we teacher-leaders have to step out of the way and let the groups make all of the decisions. This put the learning in their hands. Most of the teams took advantage of that freedom. Some teams did not, seeking out exactly what was expected of them, and foundered a bit. Just like students …
  • The collective mentality of all of us seemed to be that technology can inform literacy (I agree, too), but perhaps we should have found more ways to question and be critical of that premise that technology in schools is the right path for education (something the Mass Commissioner of Education did, but then did not leave any time for teacher response or questions). I worry that if we don’t leave room for arguments against technology (shallow reading, advertising on sites, time away from learning, etc.) then we too easily buy into the “wow” factor. Just like students …
  • One of the elements of feedback that came in was that the ‘talking’ parts of the week — the keynote addresses and sessions that centered around research — were too long. People were itching to get to the tools. I thought the balance of pedagogical insight with the hands-on work was fine and crucial for a week that was more than a “how to use technology” seminar, but attention spans became short at times. Just like students …
  • The teachers and administrators I worked with were very appreciative to have me there in their midst, even as the wireless became overloaded and sites did not work quite right. I tried to calm down the frustration by talking through alternatives and workarounds and even a hack here and there. Most of the time, they could step back from frustration, take a breath and then get back to work. But they needed a helping hand to navigate those moments. Just like students …

And just like students, these teachers were able to push beyond their safe zone with technology and dive into the unknown. Our hope is that momentum carries into the school year and back at the distance. We want ripples to happen.

Peace (in the reflection),


  1. I think it’s great that you are reflecting almost in the moment, while you have it in the front of your mind. What a wonderful opportunity to participate in this event now, on the cutting edge, when there’s so much talk about technology in education and not enough happening in this way. Do you know of any other states taking on 21st Century Literacies in this manner?
    So it wasn’t perfect but as I read down to the end of your reflections I was struck the most by your support as an experienced leader:

    I tried to calm down the frustration by talking through alternatives and workarounds and even a hack here and there. Most of the time, they could step back from frustration, take a breath and then get back to work. But they needed a helping hand to navigate those moments. Just like students …


  2. Kevin,
    While I appreciate your view, I don’t necessarily agree with it. So the conference had growing pains, and participants had needs beyond what the presenters had foreseen. This doesn’t make us like students, we were the students, ones who felt confident enough to let our voices be heard and share our needs, and if necessary, do what we needed to do to be sure those needs were met. Leaving the conference I felt energized regardless of all the points you bring up. In fact, it was because of all the points you brought up. I left believing that even though the week wasn’t entirely how I envisioned it, the Institute was responsive to my needs and would use the experience of this week to shape future institutes.

    • Hi Beth
      Thanks for stopping by. I realize that the use of the term “students” maybe seemed negative, and I guess I want to retract that sentiment. What I was trying to reflect upon was how much all of us — me, for sure — get locked in by what we are shown by others (swayed by mentor text) and follow that path. I would much rather have people blaze off the path.
      Like you, I remain energized by the week and am certainly honored to have been able to spend the week with everyone there, going deep into these issues and giving time for exploration.

  3. Hi Kevin, Bonnie, and Beth,

    Thanks for sharing your insights on the New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute. Striking a balance among practice, frameworks, and critique is a challenge and we appreciate your thoughts on how to “get it right” for a diverse group of teachers/learners. As you continue to lead the new literacies effort in MA keep us posted on your progress. We had a great learning experience and look forward to hearing your stories.


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